Source: Hollywood The Write Way
Date: October 23, 2009

White Collar Premiere Week continues as USA’s brand new series premieres tonight at 10/9c! Everyday this week, I have presented interviews with the cast and crew of White Collar, and today’s post is the joint interview with Actors, Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay.

On Filming in New York:

Matt: New York can’t be replicated. The energy of it, the architecture, the cabs honking and cursing you out right before they call “action.” It just can’t be replicated anywhere else and I think it’s so inherently a character in any film or TV show that takes place there. So, it’s just an unbelievable blessing to get to work here and feed off that energy. It just informs the show so much and the characters so much and the rhythm so much.

What did you think about your character initially?

Matt: Well, what I loved about him from the get go, was that he was flawed. He wasn’t—I mean, he had this—he has this veneer of the charming, hyper-intelligent, eloquent, sly mastermind, but underneath, he was really a kind of diehard romantic who would go to any lengths to find the love of his life. Not only was that his motivating force, but it was also kind of his Achilles heel, because then it ends up getting him caught and—but I liked the fact that, even though the fun he puts on is so suave and debonair, underneath there’s somebody who is also—has a hard time—has always really relied on himself and doesn’t really trust a lot of people.

Are there elements of your character that match up with your own personality?

Matt: I don’t want to say zero, because I mean, I guess we all like to think of ourselves as romantics. But, I like to think of myself as romantic and I guess I understood that part of him and that’s—that to me, has always been the driving force. I mean, his compliance with the FBI and all that stuff, ultimately is really so he can get closer to Kate and find her.

So, to me, that’s the core of the character and that’s the part that I relate to the most. The suave and debonair stuff is, you know, really fun to get to play, but I would say that I fall short of the Neal Caffrey bar in terms of that.

Neal lies with ease and sort of breezes through life but what do you think, besides romanticism, are his redeeming qualities?

Matt: I want people to—I don’t want people to think he’s the perfect guy. I want his flaws to come out, because that’s what it means to be a human being. Human beings are good, they have shadow, every single one of us has redeeming qualities and every single one of us has qualities that people can hold against us. That’s what makes us human.

I’m not interested in playing characters who are perfect or who are, you know—I think the fact that he does try to create that life for himself, is what makes him human and is his redeeming quality. Because he’s trying to cover up for ultimately a life before that that was really, as a kid, probably really unfulfilling. And, he—that’s his way of controlling and controlling his environment, controlling his life, having some sense of control. And, you know, I think he’s some—but he—I don’t think he’s somebody, he is somebody who wants to have fun in any given circumstances.

So, if he has the option of $700 a month getting him a flat in the ghetto, or an amazing house with Diahann Carroll as my landlady, that’s what I’m going to choose. He finds that. He has—he—I mean, he just puts that in his circle, that’s what he finds, he finds a way to live life to the fullest on whatever he’s given. Because I think when he was younger, he did not have any of those things. I think he’s somebody who from a very early age, had to fend for himself.

As the season goes on are we going to see more of his back story? Like, where did he learn it all and how did he go from a guy who’s just trying to make his girlfriend happy, to…?

Matt: You know, I hope, honestly, that that can come out in certain moments through my performance. I want the character to maintain mystery. I want him to—if I had my way, I would hope that by the end of—if we were blessed enough that by the end of the last episode of the seventh season, you still wouldn’t know everything about Neal Caffrey and you still wouldn’t know if he was playing you or if he was telling you the truth.

But, you know, his profession, I don’t like to think of it as a con artist, I think of it as a social engineer. I think he’s probably somebody who from a very early age, had to find out a way to get himself to school and probably first learned how to lie to people as a kid, to get his bus fare, you know, and it only grew from there.

On Research:

Matt: Well, I don’t want to give away all of the secrets of the research I did, but what I can tell you is I read a lot of books. Everything from, you know, obviously Frank Avengale’s memoir, Catch Me If You Can, to a lot of just books about social engineering. Most of them written by people who were in the same circumstances. A guy named Kevin Mitnick, who wrote a book called The Art of Deception that was very informative to me and he was a social engineer who them became—he, you know, does some kind of high tec computer software engineering. Because from a very early age, he had to fend for himself and he learned how to break into all the computers before they had any kind of security that could defend against it. So now he develops that kind of software.

I also tried to get some inspiration from films of the same ilk and the same genre. Everything from, you know, Danny Ocean in Oceans 11, to Cary Grant’s character in To Catch a Thief, with even a little bit of Ferris Bueller thrown in there.

What are some elements of White Collar that help it stand apart from other crime dramas that we see on TV?

Matt: The signature of USA Network is, characters welcome. So, first and foremost, you’re gong to get all the great procedural stuff. It’s really intelligently written. I’m no fool, I know this is a writer’s medium. You can put the biggest stars on the TV screen, but if the writing’s not there, the shows aren’t going to last and we’re so blessed to have Jeff Easton at the helm. Because these scripts are really smart and fun and unique. The White Collar world is unique, hasn’t really been completely explored yet and so you’re going to get all the fun procedural stuff, but at the same time, there’s going to be a lot of character elements that come into play as well. That keep it light and fun and sometimes serious.

So, you do get more back story elements and a lot of interplay, fun interplay between characters that you might not get on a show that’s straight procedural.

Do you think Neal is a good guy or should be liked?

Matt: As an actor, you can never judge the character you’re playing. If you approach a character from a place of judgment, you’re really digging yourself a hole as an actor. So, what I try to focus on is who he is and what motivates him and play the truth of it. I really can’t concern myself whether people like him or don’t like him or think he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I can only play what’s written in the given circumstances.

On Audition Process:

Matt: I’m sure they had probably a pretty big list of actors. I came in and did the initial read and then I tested once, they still weren’t sure if they wanted me for the part and then I tested again and then got the part. And then—is it okay for me to say all that stuff? [laughs] Somebody might get mad at me in the network. But, what’s great about the network, is they really take their time to find the people they really believe in and you really got to win them over. And, that was really, ultimately, a very rewarding process for me.

I had had the part for a little bit and then we went to find Peter and from the minute Tim stepped in the room and the first word that came out of his mouth, I was, like, I said, this is our guy, you know, he’s amazing. Tim’s such a wonderful actor and such an amazing human being and a real blessing to get to work with every day. He has this Midwestern quality about him, this sort of wholesome quality that you can’t teach anybody. You either have it or you don’t and it plays so intrinsically into the character, because as gruff as he is and as hard as he is, you also believe that his heart is soft enough that he would ultimately empathize with somebody like Neal.

So, I think that’s what I recognized right away and just his playfulness and he got what was funny about the character. He got what was interesting about the character. He got what made their interplay interesting and I feel really lucky to get to work with him.

Are you having fun wearing all the different costumes?

Matt: I have to say, I think the wardrobe really informs the character greatly. I mean, you know, when I put on one of those suits, like, you feel like one of the Rat Pack guys, you feel that kind of—yeah, and the fedora especially, when you get it down over one eye and you feel like maybe you can trust me, maybe you can’t. There’s something about that that really helped me kind of get into the skin of the character.

Do you watch Dollhouse?

Matt: I watch it whenever I can to support Eliza, yeah, but she’s fantastic on it. Gorgeous and hot and all the stuff she should be on that show. It’s really cool, I mean, I think Joss is obviously an amazing mind. So, the stuff they’re kind of unfolding on that show has been really interesting and cool.

You both have had a lot of experience working with a lot of different television networks. How is working with USA? They very strongly support their dramas. You know in thirteen episodes, you’re not going to come in to work and find out some show is already canceled.

Matt: It doesn’t stop. That is a great feeling, artistically, it’s a great feeling to know that you’ve got—you know, go do thirteen, go do a bunch, as opposed to oh, we got four and they didn’t kill us yet, we got four more, they didn’t kill us yet. So, you feel, there’s a comfort there and I think they stay true to their logo, characters welcome. They—as opposed to some other networks I’ve worked on, namely HBO, it was more—HBO, interesting, they shot all of their episodes before they aired the first one.

So, they were much more concerned about the art of the entire season and—but it feels like USA is more concerned about the characters. I think that’s what drives their shows. So it’s fun, as an actor, it’s great.

Tim: I really believe Bonnie Hammer is one of the best minds working in the entertainment industry today and I think the network, you know, it all bleeds down from the top. And, I think they really take their time with material, with casting, this—you know, this was not something that—where we were cast, we’re shooting the next day.

They really believe, only pick a handful of things to do and really believe in them when they do. And, then support them when they’re there. I don’t feel like I’m on a network where there are seven pilots that have been picked up that I have to compete with for the network’s attention. They have been so hands on, they’ve been so supportive from the get go and just having that feeling to kind of bolster your confidence as an actor and knowing that they believe in you, it really does help on the set.

Neal and Pete have such a—like, a married personality and they almost have a bromance. How will that play out as the series progresses?

Tim: There’s an odd respect that we both enjoy and we know that each other enjoys solving something. Now Peter looks at it different, solving something than Neal does and Peter is aware of that. So, he can have Neal perhaps do something that shouldn’t really be done, but he does it. And, I think that out of that, they deep, deep, deep down inside, like each other.

Peter hunted, for lack of a better term, for years before he actually caught him four years before the pilot took place. Yet it seemed as though he really kind of agreed very quickly to team up with him. Why do you think Peter agreed to that as quickly as he did?

Tim: I think he agreed because we only had that prison location for two days. [laughs] I asked myself that same thing. My wife helps me with that, but there is—in addition to solving the cases, and in addition to liking each other and having a very close bond, there’s another element here and that’s Kate.

That was a factor when Elizabeth tells Peter. Peter’s saying, there’s more to this than just some lost love thing. And, she asks him, “Really? You think so? You wouldn’t do this for me?”

And now that he’s with me, I can ask him all these questions that I’ve been dying to ask and even though I envy his lifestyle, to a degree…this is kind of neat. I mean, Batman now can have the Joker, the Riddler, whomever you want to be with him.

Matt: And, there’s the opposite too, sorry to interrupt you. There’s the opposite too in that I am—I envy and find fascinating his family—his domestic family life. I’m fascinated by what’s it like to have a real family and a life where you can just settle down and you have breakfast together in the morning and all this. Because I don’t think I ever understood those kind of things.

It seemed like the chemistry between the two characters though was that aspect of, you were his nemesis and he spent so long chasing you, that he came to know you and to respect you. You had to put so much effort into finding him and he had to put so much effort into evading you, that it was almost a relationship built in that aspect. And, now suddenly it’s, like, what’s he really like?

Tim: You’re right, we kind of knew each other. He sent me birthday presents. And, then the other element that’s great, that’s written in this, is that there’s no—the whole element of violence is not in it. You know, so it’s—so that sense of being together could—is he going to pull a knife on me? Pull a gun—that’s just not in there. So, it’s not that—

Matt: It’s also not Neal’s nature either. He’s not a gun guy, he’s not a knife guy, he’s a mind guy.

Obviously as an actor, any previous role you have on your resume, kind of helps you get the next job. We saw a few kind of hints of Bryce, that very kind of suave—like, now I’m here, now I’m not, kind of thing going. Do you think other than just the fact that it was something on your resume, do you think that role kind of helped you get this role?

Matt: Oh, I don’t think I ever could have played Neal Caffrey if I hadn’t placed Bryce Larkin because he helped me understand sort of the espionage aspect of—he showed—helped me understand the smoother—yeah, the more espionage aspects of the character and when he has to go undercover and things like that. And, sort of he’s cool under pressure and those kind of things and just maneuvering in that world and never really knowing who he can trust or if you can trust him either. So, it was definitely very helpful.

Were you surprised when Bryce came back for the first time?

Matt: Well, Chris had said something to me when we were filming the pilot and he’d said something kind of off the cuff and very surreptitious about it. But, he said something about, you know, “You know he’s not dead, right?” I said, “Oh, okay.” And so, you know, that’s one of those things that you file away and go okay, and then—I knew I was coming back in flashbacks and then when they called to tell me that I was coming back to life. [laughs] I was being reanimated, I was just really pleasantly surprised and really thankful.

Do you have a favorite scene or stand out moment?

Matt: I know there’s too many to choose from right now. I really like—we have a stake out scene in one of the first episodes, it’s really, really fun. A lot of this stuff, when we go undercover together and we have to—and I, of course, get us into trouble and Peter has to bail us out or we have to use—any of that stuff where we’re just kind of given free rein to be silly and fun and playful and—we just understand the dynamics inherently, all that stuff is just criminally fun to film. No pun intended. Well, I should let Tim answer.

Tim: No, I’d have to agree, I was going to say that one. There—you know, what? If I could say one scene, probably that one. I think what’s really fun are the—between Matt and myself, I feel it’s just little moments here and there. Just—and not necessarily in one particular scene, just—

Matt: And sometimes it’s not planned, we don’t even know they’re there and—

Tim: Yeah, they just, boom, they’re there. Those are the ones that you really look forward to.

Neal seems almost as invested in Peter’s relationship with his wife as Peter is. We saw the aspect in the Pilot of Neal helping Peter discover his romantic side and learn more about her. Does that continue? Is there, like, a Cyrano de Bergerac thing going on here?

Tim: Yeah, it does continue.

Matt: Sometimes, yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s a steady theme in every episode, but it definitely happens and my—certainly my fascination with what it is to have this picket fence life, is alive.

As for Neal, once he’s done doing what he needs to do. Do you think that he’ll try to change his life and be a, you know, a good guy? Or do you think that he’ll just revert back to being this criminal?

Matt: I would hope he’d always maintain some of his mystery and that you’d never really a hundred percent feel like—he’d always be a little slippery. But, I would love, as the series progresses, down the road, for him to really understand, I think he’s starting to, to understand the rewards of doing what he’s doing and helping out and how he can use certain skills that he taught himself, to—for a better purpose. I think that’s the better moral story to tell, but I’m excited. I trust Jeff Easton a hundred and fifty percent and wherever he wants to take the character, I’m happy to go.

You can read the rest of the interview here.